Stretching is one thing that I personally neglect or skip from time to time even though I know how important it is. My goal is to stretch at least 10 minutes a day.
1. Post-exercise cool-down
If you do stretch, most likely it is after a workout. This is great to prevent those post-exercise aches and pains. Post-exercise stretching will help keep your muscles loose. I make the huge mistake of walking and then just stopping, even when I know my muscles are tight. Stretching would help loosen them up.
2. Reduce or Prevent Injury
When you stretch you are improving or increasing your muscle elasticity and gaining a greater range of motion, thus helping prevent injuries to tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The better you can perform exercises, the less risk of injury. You may not see the results from stretching like you go strength training, but stretching does serve many purposes.
3. Reduce Stress
I am writing this blog post AFTER I did my stretching. I can tell it helped reduce my stress (and Monday was not a happy day). If you stretch your muscles well, they will hold less tension. This in turns helps you feel less stressed. Don’t forget if you have a desk job to stand up and stretch every now and then. I often try to reach to the ceiling and then touch my toes (more on that below).
4. Increase Flexibility
One reason I decided to start my new stretching routine is I realized I can’t touch my toes. And I know I could touch them just last year. Luckily flexibility is something that anyone (regardless of gender, race, or age) can obtain. I am super tight in my hip flexors which is one of the reasons for not being able to reach my toes. With consistent effort, this can be corrected. And, it is something I can measure on a daily basis.
5. Improve range of motion
Stretching will increase your range of motion through decreasing muscle stiffness. Why can’t I touch my toes? Because I can’t bend forward that far. Once I decrease the stiffness in my hips, I will have a better range of motion. We concentrate so much on activities like running, strength training, etc. that we neglect stretching. Improving the range of motion may also slow the degeneration of your joints. As you get older, everything stiffens and loses elasticity. This means you will lose your range of motion and possibly have trouble with everyday activities later in life. STRETCH NOW!
6. Improve or Enhance performance
Stretching will not only help your performance in activities like running, sports, etc.; but will help in your everyday life. I know that when I am stiff, my joints act up. The more flexible I am, the better. With so many sports, it is important to be agile. With flexibility comes agility.
7. Reduce or Decrease Low-Back Pain
Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves stress on the lumbar spine which in turn reduces the risk of low-back pain. How many times have you complained of lower back pain? A little stretching can go a long way to prevent this.
8. Improve or Increase Circulation
Stretching increases blood supply to the muscles and joints which allow for greater nutrient transportation and improves the circulation of blood through the entire body. Yoga is a great form of prolonged stretching. Yoga, combined with aerobic exercise and a healthy diet has been known to reduce cholesterol, reverse hardening of the arteries by as much as 20%, and help lower the number on the scale. I need to make it a point to take at least 1 yoga class a week OR find a great yoga routine I can do at home.
9. Reduce muscle tension
Stretching helps by decreasing your delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). Stretching reduces soreness by decreasing the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. Stretching can also help prevent muscles (like your calves) from cramping. I know I get a LOT of calf cramps. I am hoping that my new stretching routine will, in time, reduce the muscle tightness I experience in my calves when walking.
10. Improve posture
Many of us walk around hunched over, probably without even knowing it. Stretching the muscles of your lower back, shoulders, and chest will help keep your back in better alignment which will help improve your posture.
Don’t these all sound like fabulous reasons to stretch? I honestly did not know all of this until I started doing some research. Now I feel it is even more important to stretch every day, even if it is a planned rest day.
When Is The Best Time To Stretch?
The ideal time to stretch is when your muscles are warm. Either after your exercise or a warm-up activity (say 5 minutes on the elliptical). You need to give your muscles a chance to warm up and become more flexible. Injuries can occur when you try to stretch a cold muscle. Hold stretches for approximately 20 seconds.
Here is a great infographic of twelve stretching exercises to cover the entire body. This is what I followed today and probably will continue for the next two weeks.
Graphic Source: goodbyebabylon.tumblr.com10 Great Reasons To Stretch. Don't forget or skip this important part of your workout! Click To Tweet
What are some of your favorite stretches? Do you have a stretching routine you follow?